Getting inked is a serious commitment – it pays to spend some time thinking carefully about what you want, where and how long before you ever submit yourself to the needle and a tattoo artist’s (hopefully) capable hands.
To help you make the right decision, here's our guide to what you should consider before walking into a tattoo parlour:
- Research, research and then research some more. Getting a tattoo is a deeply personal decision – it’s not really something to do off the cuff or when you’re tanked and out with your mates (contrary to every movie tattoo scene ever). As is often said, your tattoo will likely stick around longer than your significant other – and, like your life partner, you want to love it, not regret it.
- Before you commit, think carefully about the design you want – what does it mean to you? Will it be meaningful in a decade or two? Once you’ve settled on the image, you’ll then need to research tattoo artists whose style melds with your expectations. Don't just go for the first artist you see – tattoo artists have their specialities, whether it's anime, portraiture, colour or shading. Take the time to find a perfect match for your vision. Ask them to sketch the design that personalises it to you even more. Work with them until you're happy.
- Interview tattoo studios. A great tattoo artist is just one piece of the puzzle. You'll also want to check out where they work. If the studio doesn't meet proper hygiene regulations, no amount of artistry is worth an infection. Make sure the shop is wholly sanitised, smells clean and that all needles are new for each client. If there's anything that looks wrong to you, get out fast.
- Remember it will hurt. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. If you averse to pain, the sight of blood or have a needle phobia, think carefully about whether you want to go ahead. Large tattoos can take three hours or more, so you need to be prepared to weather it out without flinching. And situating the tattoo in a high-pain area, like on bony parts like ribs and ankles, can make the process even more difficult. Choose an area with lots of muscle or fat your first time if you think the pain will be an issue.
- Think twice if you suffer from allergies. Even minor skin allergies can pose problems for tattoos, so make sure you get your doctor's OK before you go ahead. It's impossible to know before you try how your skin will react to multiple needles and chemicals, and some people can get an allergic reaction – including itchiness, irritation, rashes or swelling. Lumps can also form around the tattooed area for those with sensitive skin. If you feel anything strange while getting your tattoo, ask for a timeout. And don't hesitate to abort if you start to feel really odd – better safe than sorry.
- You get what you pay for. Don't be tempted by a discounted price – great tattoo artists cost serious money, dependent on size, detail and complexity. You want to choose a design that means something to you, not one that looks cool on the wall of a tattoo shop. It's best to work closely with the artist to customise a design that's original and personal to you – trendy, dime-a-dozen designs are a slippery slope to buyer's remorse. Never haggle on the price, either – it's disrespectful to the artist. For large format tattoos, however, it's okay to ask to pay in instalments.
- Aftercare. Your new piece will require some aftercare. Dont plan a 2 week beach holiday that will expose the tattoo to sun, sand and water. Plan to have petroleum jelly handy and make sure you speak to your tattoist about what steps to take. They may have some after care cream available at the studio for you to purchase before you leave. Taking advantage of this is really good idea, the last thing you want is an infected tattoo requiring a visit to the doctor.